U.S. Congress agrees to expand payroll assistance to local news outlets

FILE PHOTO: A newspaper vending machine is pictured in Basile amid a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak across the state of Louisiana, U.S., March 26, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Congressional leaders said on Sunday that lawmakers agreed to expand forgivable government loans to additional struggling local news outlets as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said the measure would expand eligibility “for nonprofits and local newspapers, TV and radio broadcasters.”

Thousands of local newspapers, TV and radio stations had been ineligible for the initial “Paycheck Protection Program” approved by Congress in March because they were owned by larger parent companies.

U.S. local news outlets, which already faced a decline in print revenue in recent years, have seen advertising revenue plummet in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. A report released by Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell in October said U.S. newspapers would most likely cut at least 7,000 employees in 2020, leaving only about 30,000 newsroom jobs.

Newspapers have been making drastic cuts to stay afloat in 2020 and making new rounds of jobs cuts and reducing the number of days they print papers. The Salt Lake Tribune announced in October it would stop printing and delivery of a daily newspaper and move to a weekly printed newspaper delivered by mail in 2021.

By the end of 2020, total U.S. newspaper revenue is expected to have dropped by about 70% since 2005, while newsroom employment has fallen by 59%, the report said.

Earlier this year, groups representing local newspapers and broadcast media outlets asked U.S. lawmakers to provide direct assistance including up to $10 billion in government advertising.

Unlike many other businesses, news organizations were already hurting before the pandemic. Employment at U.S. newsrooms fell 25% from 2008 to 2018, Pew Research Center reported, a loss of 28,000 jobs.

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Peter Cooney and Diane Craft